Monday, September 1, 2008

I'm a believer!

"I don't believe in traffic rotaries." This is a misuse of the English language that burns me the most. You don't BELIEVE in traffic rotaries? How can you not BELIEVE in them? They obviously exist, and it is likely you, the non-believer, has driven through one and found them aggravating or scary or frustrating. I think what you MEAN to say is "I don't LIKE traffic rotaries."

It is likely you, dear readers, have heard (or perhaps committed) similar misuse of the word "believe."

"I don't believe in red bean ice cream."
"I don't believe in women serving in combat roles in the military."
"I don't believe in zoos."

Most of the time, when I've heard people misuse the word "believe" what they are implying is they either don't like something, or don't endorse it. Try it. Insert the word "like" or "endorse" in any of the three phrases above. It works. And, it makes the speaker sound far more sane than your average holocaust denier.

Which leads me to my question. What is happening in our society that the weighty word "believe" has become a stand-in for the lighter word "like" or more emphatic "endorse"? Is this a natural outcome of the increasing role of the Christian right in our social life, where fundamental values and beliefs become the yardstick by which grocery store purchases and entertainment options are weighed? Is it simply a by-product of the American tendency to go to extremes in all manner of things?

Whatever the reason, I can say definitively that I don't believe in it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, I see what you mean. I thought about it for a bit, because my mind tends to wander rapidly, and it does make sense. John Lennon, however, definitely would have an issue with your argument. Lyrics taken from his song "God"
I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedy
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in Kings
I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me...and that reality

Oh well, thanks for the perpetuation of thought.

Your ever thoughtful yet painfully slow brother in law.

Although I suppose a few of his don't believes are literally legit